Tag Archives: chickens

Farming in June

It’s always a splendid idea to move residences just as farm season ramps up for the summer.  I have done it three times now.  You’d think we’d learn.  Needless to say, it’s been a busy month but we are having all sorts of fun!

This is sort of a photo-dump but here’s what has been going on at the farm in the last week:

 

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We’ve been breeding cows (artificially inseminating) up at Carol’s ranch.  She selects good bulls for sires and hires someone to come AI the cows. The Spring 2014 calf crop is percolating as we speak!

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The weather has been nice, so our broiler chicks have been heading out to pasture at precisely two weeks of age.  They still have their fluffy chick down, but they much prefer being on grass to being in the brooder.  They really forage a lot even at this age.

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We have been happy to see the variety of grass and forb, species that are coming up in the fertilized area behind our broiler pens.  Now that there’s been a bit of rain there is quite the diverse landscape. This is a picture of selfheal (prunella vulgaris) in bloom.

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We are even seeing some wild strawberries (fragaria virginiana) ! They are tinier than the tip of a finger, but they look just as delicious as their domestic counterparts.

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Emmie picked a fight with a tougher dog than herself and ended up with a few war wounds.  She was bedridden for a few days but the first sign of life was her intense desire to go with me to the farm when I’d put on my boots in the morning.  She can’t stand being left on the sidelines while I’m working.  It’s been said of Border Collies that each dog has the energy of a small nuclear reactor.  That’s very much true of this one.  I’m glad she bounced back quickly. I hadn’t realized how attached I’d become to my sidekick til I had to do chores without her.

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We’ve been making hay up at the ranch.  I have been assigned baling duty.  I straight-up love it.   It’s hot, the dust makes me itch and sneeze,  the baler is old, and the fields are rugged.  But the scenery is terrific!  We’re making hay in the foothills of the Coastal range, with covered bridges and vineyards and rivers on every side.  I’d rather be out there making hay on a sunny weekend than doing pretty much anything else in the whole wide world.

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Carol and James first cut the grass down with a swather.  The swather incorporates a conditioner (or crimper) which crunches the grass a little bit to make it dry faster.

Then they come along with a “tedder”, which has tines that fluff up the hay and accelerate the drying process.  Getting the hay to dry quickly is important in the Willamette Valley where mornings have lots of dew and it could rain at any moment.

The next step is raking the hay into windrows.  This puts the grass in nice, straight lines so that the baler can pick it up.  Raking also helps with drying, as it turns the grass and fluffs it up to get more airflow.

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We check the grass by hand and with a moisture meter and when it’s dry enough, we fire up the baler and I get to work.

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James comes along behind me with the bale wagon and scoops up the bales.  When he gets a full stack, he drives up to the barn and and deposits them for the winter.  

And with that, I’m off to go bale some more hay.  We are expecting rain in the early part of the week, so we’re getting it up as fast as possible.

 

 

 

 

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They’re Here!

Our Cornish-cross chicks arrived on Thursday morning, fresh from the hatchery in California.  There are about 600 in all and they are all healthy!  We didn’t lose any even though the shipment spent two days in the postal system.  Those chicks are amazingly hardy for being so small.  They can survive for at least a day on the nutrition they received from the yolk sac in the egg, without needing any additional food or water.

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The chicks are shipped in cardboard boxes with holes in the sides and lids.  Each box is divided into sections with about 25 chicks in each partition to prevent them from piling up and smothering each other during transport.  In the middle of summer, the hatchery usually puts fewer chicks in each box so they don’t get too hot.

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Our day begins when the local post office calls to let me know the chicks have arrived.  The call usually comes at 5:30 or 6 a.m.  We head straight to the post office, where the poor postal workers are enduring the incessant cheeping of hundreds of chicks.  I think they’re always glad to see them leave!  We pull up to the back loading dock of the post office and unload all the boxes off the postal carts and into our car.  Then we head straight up to the farm where the heat lamps are already turned on and food and water is set out for the new arrivals.

 

 

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Keith and I each take a stack of boxes into the brooder and work quickly to unload the chicks.  They are so hungry, thirsty and cold at first!  Each chick makes a bee-line straight for the water or feed as soon as its feet hit the ground.  They run everywhere, peeping in a state of panic and you have to be very careful not to step on them.

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After their little bellies get full and they find the heat, their cries of distress fade to a quiet murmur.  They all huddle under the hovers and cozy up next to the heat lamps for warmth.  Their eyes drift closed as they bask in the heat.  Sometimes they fall over, they get so relaxed.  It’s really adorable!

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We will be getting at least 6 more batches of chicks as well as another couple hundred layer chicks for egg production, over the course of the summer.  This kicks off the busy farm season!  We’re looking forward to a good year in 2013!

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Emmie loves the chicks.  She has to stay up on a straw bale so that she doesn’t step on them, but she watches them intently, quivering with delight.  I think the frenzy of little running birds really kicks her herding instincts into full gear – she really wants to get them all bunched up into one spot.  She’s pretty adept at herding chickens, which comes in handy when these birds are bigger and sometimes escape from their pasture pens.

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C’mon Little Chicks!

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The brooder is all set up – shiny new heat lamps are installed, an overhead automatic watering system is in place, mason jars waterers are filled, feeders are set out.

Now where are the chicks?!

My hatchery in California tells me that my 600 Cornish-Cross babies are enroute but transit has been taking two days instead of one.  I’m imagining fluffy yellow chicks standing in long TSA lines at the airport.  It makes me laugh so I don’t worry too much.  I am looking forward to getting them out of their boxes and into their plush new living quarters!

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On the Move

This farm is on the move!   This Sunday, Keith and I loaded a couple of our brooders onto a flatbed trailer and hauled them up to their new resting spot at the ranch.

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These brooder houses are pretty darn awesome, if I do say so myself.  Each one cost less than $200 to build and they’ve served us through 4 different farm seasons at 3 different locations and have (mostly) held together well.

Please excuse my “migrant farmworker” husband in the straw hat.  He found the hat in an old refrigerator and spent the afternoon wearing it and dancing a jig to Irish music as he worked.  I can’t really explain any of that previous sentence in a way that makes any sense whatsoever.  Whatever makes him happy, since I took him away from his precious Mt. Bachelor to help me on the farm this weekend.

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Here we are, about to hit the highway with one load of brooders!  We’ll transport the other two next weekend if I can peel the migrant farmworker off the ski slopes again.

 

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Emmie Loves Herding Chickens

Emmie’s absolute favorite activity is herding chickens.  We never taught her how to do it, she just came built with that amazing border collie instinct. She was clever enough to figure out the process of paddock moves very quickly. She knows that as soon as we fire up the tractor and open the feathernets it is time for the birds to move from the old area into the new area.  The chickens know it too and they do a pretty good job of running straight for the fresh grass.  We move their hoophouses with the tractor and the chickens follow along.  There are always a few stragglers however and in this video there were a lot of dawdlers because we were moving them a long distance across a low-lying area that had become filled with 6 inches of rainwater. They were taking their sweet time, and I made Emmie wait for a few minutes so most of the chickens could get across on their own. She’s very obedient but as you can see, she hates to have to take a break from herding.  She never “talks” likes this unless she wants to herd the chickens.

Emmie herds fast and furiously but she almost never hurts the chickens.  Occasionally she gets frustrated at a wayward bird that won’t go the right direction and she tries to drag it by its wing.  I’m always there to step in and call her off though.

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Hen-pecked

The sunny streak is starting to fade, but this weather we’ve been having totally rocks my world!  I was so inspired by a recent sunshiny evening that I pulled out my iPhone camera to capture some pictures during chore time.

Wanna see?

Emmie takes a momentary break from "herding" the chickens

A broody Silver-Laced Wyandotte hen

The whole crew

A curious Dekalb Amberlink hen, right before she pecked my iPhone

I guess, if you’re a chicken, shoelaces look like delicious worms.

Emmie and I go for a walk to the lower paddock

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Farm Tours – kid version

One of the most rewarding parts of owning a farm is sharing the experience with other people.   Views like these are too good to be kept to oneself.

the farm at sunrise

The biggest attractant, though, is not the view but the fuzzy baby chicks in our brooder.  With batches of broiler and layer chicks arriving every four weeks, we have a constant supply of cuteness.  No matter how ungainly these birds will look in a few weeks, as day-old babies they bring out the  child in all of us.

After all, aren’t baby chicks what a farm is all about?

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Many of my friends bring their kids out to the farm to see the baby chicks and to feed the laying hens.  The chickens are just the right size for a child to approach. There is nothing more adorable than seeing a little 2 year old girl in a plaid dress, hand-feeding chickens in a pasture. Heart-melting adorable, I’m telling you.

Know what else is adorable? These:

Kid's drawings - the price of admission for a farm tour

The last few kids who have come to visit the baby chicks have each brought me pictures and letters. One sweet little blonde first grader even brought Chocolate Banana Braed, as mentioned above.   Her note was written in blueberry-scented Mr. Sketch marker too…she gets extra points for that!

I’ve decided that the new price of admission for a farm tour is a hand-painted picture. Disney character drawings merit extra special farm tour priveleges.   I wouldn’t turn down a loaf of Chocolate Banana Braed, either.  That stuff was good.

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